Celebrating Sakia Gunn…2011

Sakia Gunn would have celebrated 23 years of life today. We are left, however, with the task of honoring Sakia-a young daughter of Newark-whose days were shortened by way of a physical weapon (a knife) and ideological artillery (heterosexism/sexism). But, Sakia’s spirit remains among us: waking us from our social (un)consciousness and enlivening us to do the work of justice in Newark, NJ and elsewhere. In fact, hate may seek to destroy but it doesn’t kill. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. After Sakia’s murder, her family and friends stood up for justice. Young Newarkers, like Dawn James and Valencia Bailey, galvanized others to stand in solidarity with Sakia’s family, pushed city leaders and politicians to act and organized peaceful memorials.

2. The Newark Pride Alliance (NPA) was formed under the leadership of LaQuetta Nelson and James Credle in response to Sakia’s death. NPA began its advocacy work armed with the mission to ensure that safe spaces are created and maintained in the city of Newark.

3. Cory A. Booker, who was a councilperson at the time of Sakia’s murder, turned his attention to the case, in particular, but would vow to make LGBTQ issues a priority.

4. Filmmaker, Charles “Chas” Brack, directs and produces “Dreams Deferred: The Sakia Gunn Story,” and, along with Sakia’s family members, begin to carry her name from Newark to other spaces around the world.

5. June Dowell-Burton introduces the City of Newark to LGBTQ pride when she founded Newark-Essex Pride Coalition and Newark-Essex Pride Week. Pride moved queer celebrations from meeting rooms and other social spaces to the streets of Newark.

6. The City of Newark, with the Newark-Essex Pride Coalition, under the auspices of Mayor Booker, councilperson Dana Rone and June Dowell-Burton, raises the rainbow flag at the entrance to Newark City Hall.

7. Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship (LITUFC) forms the Social Justice Center as an extension of its faith ministry to address issues of injustice in the community. True Colors, a queer youth initiative, was subsequently developed to provide avenues of expression for queer youth.

8. New Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) develops and implements Project WOW, a drop-in center for queer youth who are engaged or disengaged from the school system.

9. NPA, in partnership with the City of Newark, Hetrick-Martin Institute and Rutgers-Newark, chaired 3 free full-day conferences on religion, education and health, hosted a series of trainings for Newark Public Schools, advocated on behalf of queer students and provided trainings to NPS students…the City of Newark now has an official instrumentality, thanks to Dana Rone and Ronald Rice, Jr., that advises the Mayor on LGBTQ concerns and the county of Essex, following the city’s lead, has just organized its own body to do the same…the city of Newark and Newark Public Schools is now home to the HMI-to-Go afterschool program for queer youth….Rutgers-Newark LGBTQ groups now hold annual events on campus…New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts its “Newark is Burning” event…African American Office of Gay Concerns, with the assistance of FemWorks and MedinaCiti, launches its “Status is Everything” Campaign….

10. The Sakia Gunn High School for Civic Engagement, an initiative spearheaded by the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Newark Public Schools and supported fully by Sakia’s mother and family, will open its doors in the city of Newark in the Fall of 2012….and sooooooooo much more! Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Matthias Pressley are right in warning us against the need to lift up Sakia as a victim and martyr only. Instead, they encourage us to celebrate Sakia, the young, vibrant, human being, from Newark. Today, on her birthday, we celebrate her spirit that continues to drive Newarkers to serve toward the end of creating safer spaces.

Add to the list your celebratory comment or event that you would like to name in honor of Sakia…

in love and community…darnell and june

A Note for Jordan Miles…and for all black and brown boys living in a police state…

It was a sunny afternoon in “Pollock Town” and the bells signaling the end of my school day at Camden High had rang a few hours before. I was home. I decided, as I typically did, to leave my grandmother’s house—which happened to be my house (and at various points in time, every family member’s house)—on Vanhook Street (as it was named then) to my Aunt Arlene’s house directly around the corner. We lived in a neighborhood where youth played outside often, where homes were literal camping grounds for neighborhood children, where fights broke out and brought everyone to their porches, where “posses” were family and formed because of boredom, and where one might receive love as easily as s/he did bullying. Drugs, like other urban spaces, had a stronghold on our neighborhood. I assume that’s the reason that our police took to our neighborhood as if it were a war zone where civilians figured in their skewed imaginations as either the drug user or pusher. Most forgot, I assume, that they too had family in our small city who just as easily matched their stereotypes given that most of the presumed “shining shields” were from the same hood that they had begun to terrorize. I digress….but, not really.

I walked elatedly as I turned the corner of the street where my Aunt’s house was located—adorning my fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, and flaunting my flashy herringbone necklace with matching bracelet. I’ve always had a penchant for nice clothes and sneakers even if I could not really afford them. So, I would clean my sneakers with a toothbrush and iron my clothes as if I worked at a professional dry cleaning service. I understood, honestly, the lure that pulled other young brothers into a fast-paced life of drugs and money: even while I witnessed the lives of those that I love being wrecked by drugs, I desired to live the “Rap City” life (at least wear the clothes that rappers were wearing in the videos) every day. But, I was lured by my dreams of something better and books instead; though, I managed to live into “street” fantasies every now and then. But, my black male body—adorning fresh kicks, rocking trendy gear, flaunting flashy herringbones—remained a point of surveillance because of its seeming displacement from the “set” (read, drug corners). I assume.

A city of Camden cop car turned the opposite corner as I walked passing young and not-so-young black males on the corner. The car increasingly picked up speed as it moved down the street in the direction I walked. I walked to my aunt’s house often, practically lived there, and had my share of eyewitness accounts of police happenings on the block. So, I expected there to be nothing new but the mundane emergency response to some neighbor’s call. The car moved quickly unto the sidewalk. I was surprised considering that there wasn’t anyone walking on that part of the block but me. The black cop jumped out of the car and screamed words that I still don’t remember to this day–lthough, he mentioned something about “look out boys”–because I was in shock as my arm (the same arm that I would typically use to write essays in my advanced English courses, the same arm that I would use to place money in the hands of bus drivers when traveling downtown to take college-level classes at Camden County even while a high schooler, the same arm that I used to make silkscreen t-shirts as part of my summer youth employment job) was violently placed behind my back as if the black cop wanted to break my arm as well as my spirit. I could see my aunt’s boyfriend, Big Sam, running down the street and feared that the black cop would turn from me and beat the black man coming his way. But, he didn’t. He threw me in the back of the car and was unaware that I was a student in Camden High’s IPLE (Institute for Political and Legal Education) where Coach Hanson had taught us about Miranda rights and what happens when our law enforcement officers break the law by failing to recite them. I am certain he was unaware of this fact, because I matched his image of the public enemy: black, male, and hood. So, he drove away without reading my rights. He angrily asked, as he drove, my name to which I gave him none….my birthdate to which I responded by asking him for his ID number…my purpose for walking the street to which I asserted “walking to my aunt’s house.” Shoulder hurting and spirit broken, I sat in the back terrified for my life, and, for a second, the life of every black male in an America that still images us as terrorist..an America where black men see each other as enemies.

Sam finally caught up with us on Atlantic Avenue, which is about seven minutes away-by car-from where I was initially picked up. I am certain that the black cop would have rather me walk back home (or worse, limp) if he had his choice. Sam commenced his appeal: he’s a good kid, an “A” student, don’t mess with anybody, ain’t never sold drugs, going places. I sat in the back of the locked police car pissed as hell and sad to the point of tears. He eventually let me go, but his hands are still felt on my arm and the pain is still very real in my shoulder. Even as I write this I feel the need to cry: for the brother who couldn’t see me…or himself in me and for those who are innocent victims of police brutality whether they are guilty of committing crimes or not.

This is for Jordan Miles! And, while my tears might have been the result of a broken spirit then, I cry tears of righteous indignation in solidarity with those who stand against the machinations of a police state today.


A Review of Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”

Manning’s Invention, or, Malcolm’s Reinvention?

Manning Marable’s “Malcolm X” is an adroit craftsperson: an artisan who is skilled at undergoing perpetual “reinventions.” Marable’s thesis, in his now widely discussed and contested Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, is grounded in the proposition that “self-invention was an effective way for [Malcolm] to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community giving justification to their hopes.” According to Marable, Malcolm’s travels (between his pasts and futures) and travails (to define his self and his politics) in a raced, classed, irreligious (read, anti-Islamic) and imperialist American (and, later, international) context were driven largely by his desire to engage in the process of relentless reinvention: a process of continual, purposeful becomings, not necessarily for himself, but for the “black community” that would eventually claim him as its “Prince.”

Marable’s biography, flowing from this idea, recreates the sometimes tragic, and, mostly gallant, life and death of a martyr who dies for a cause—for others—but also a radical (and complicated) freedom fighter who dies also to his “self” and volition. Malcolm, via Marable, is caricatured as a “social being”—only imagined within the context of his beingness-in-relation-to the larger societal context where there exists a need for a salvific protagonist of the burgeoning black radical tradition and villainous antithesis to the very ideas of the presumed democratic tradition of white racist (and liberalist) America. But, as Baldwin illumines when writing about Richard Wright’s Native Son in his essay “Many Thousand Gone”: “the reality of a man as a social being is not his only reality and that artist is strangled who is forced to deal with human beings solely in social terms” (emphasis added). Marable, who was committed to the task of a historian as opposed to fiction writer, develops a narrative that refuses to allow space for Malcolm X the “human being” who exists without the ostensible proclivity towards “self-reinventions” that benefit others while only tangentially benefiting the human actor himself.

One must, then, interrogate the argument that is weaved into the narrative arc that directs Marable’s historical analysis of Malcolm X the “social being.” If the argument goes that Malcolm’s life “narrative is a brilliant series of reinventions,” as Marable suggests, then it would follow that Malcolm Little/Detroit Red/Big Red/Malcolm X/Malik Shabazz/El-Hajj Malik Shabazz were merely iterations along a continuum of perpetual and purposeful becomings, which were driven by external forces only, rather than the living-into, or, rather, states of beings that emerge and re-emerge as a result of the contextual life spaces and experiences that propel any human being toward self-motivated (and sometimes unmethodical) change. The former is a sign of a tragic life while the latter opens up the possibility for life’s complex beauty.

So, was the life of Malcolm X one defined by reinventions (for the sake of everyone but himself) or was Malcolm X delimited by Marable’s drive to invent a Malcolm X whose propensity manifested towards such desires? And, did such a desire impact the Malcolm X that the reader is left to grapple with? Even if one is not sure of that answer, s/he should read Marable’s work with that question in mind or otherwise s/he might find him/herself guilty of submitting to a politicized historiography of a sociopolitical Malcolm X that fails to fully capture the human being who just happened to be, like all of us, social and political.